My boss gleefully shared her plans for our yearly team event in our biweekly meeting. “I purchased a Groupon for a paint-and-sip event at the Open Arts Studio.” My coworkers perked up.

Although I’m artistically dysfunctional and fear being outed for lack of skills, many others love spending some time painting on canvas while taking a nip. Paint and sip events are trendy and a popular way for people to spend a night out on the town, for groups of coworkers to do something outside the office together, or even a different sort of date night.

Open Arts Studio
A student having fun painting a winter scene while sipping coffee during a Pouring Picasso event. Photo credit: Open Arts Studio/Art House Cafe

There are a few different paint-and-sip operations in town, but while recently visiting with Open Arts Studio co-owner Lucy Armstrong, she shared how they differentiate themselves from other paint and sips. “We’re different because we offer more than wine while painting. We started the Art House Cafe to complement our Pouring Picasso events. Our customers can choose from a full menu, not just appetizers.”

So while you get your canvas, instructions on how to paint and your first glass of wine included in the wine and paint experience, you can also order appetizers, desserts or even dinner to go with the experience.

Art Doesn’t Just Mean Painting

John and Lucy Armstrong created the Open Arts Studio after the accountant in her convinced the artist in him to think beyond providing children’s voice lessons in the basement. In 2005, they opened an art school that catered to children.

Today the studio offers instruction to all age groups. Pottery, drawing, painting, guitar, violin, viola, cello, piano and vocal lessons are on the menu for adults and children alike, as well as parties and after-school children’s programs and spring and summer camps.

Open Arts Studio Pottery
This student is deep in concentration as she “throws” her pot on the potters wheel at the Open Arts Studio.
Photo credit: Open Arts Studio/Art House Cafe

John (artist, professional actor and trained opera singer) teaches most of the children’s programs. His students refer to the 6’8” teacher as “Big John.” The art school currently employs five other instructors who teach drawing, painting, ceramics and guitar. Such talent has found them through promotional flyers, Craigslist and word of mouth.

“Artists often find us,” says Lucy. “Being an artist doesn’t typically provide an affluent or even comfortable lifestyle. Teaching what they love is one way artists make their lives more comfortable.”

Open Arts is an employer and promoter. Artists can sell their work at the studio or have it featured on the restaurant’s walls. Lucy also displays students’ work on the back of the restaurant menus.

Food is Art

After the tea shop next door went up for sale, John and Lucy purchased the space to expand into the art of food – The Art House Cafe. This concept allowed them to pair entrees and wine with painting classes, plus serve as a stand-alone restaurant and mini art gallery. The two businesses blend well, giving them a competitive edge.

Art House Cafe Cooking Class
Cooking class students have fun while learning to roll dough at the Art House Cafe. Photo credit: Open Arts Studio/Art House Cafe

The Art House Cafe is Lucy’s baby just as the art school is John’s. The interior and exterior design provide a European feel with plenty of light and outdoor seating that works from breakfast through dinner. The walls feature local artists’ work, many of which are employees.

The menu theme is defined as from-scratch American cuisine. Everything is made from scratch except the balsamic reduction, which burns the eyes to prepare. When they opened in 2013, most of their dishes had a French twist. Current focus is Northwest cuisine – dishes made from local, fresh ingredients. A perfect example is their Butternut Squash Pizza made from a unique palette of flavors (squash puree, onions, gorgonzola cheese and sriracha cashews) that is surprisingly fabulous. French influences remain though. The Brioche Croque Madame sandwich made from natural smoked ham, parmesan cream and gruyere cheese is still a customer favorite.

“Anyone can contribute to the menu if the dish is good,” says Lucy. Menus change quarterly and reflect Lucy’s, her staff’s and customers’ tastes. For example, the Captain Travis Omelet (sausage, red onion, Kalamata olives, spinach, cheddar cheese and mushrooms served on a bed of rosemary potatoes) was added after a loyal customer repeatedly requested they prepare this special concoction for him.

Art House Cafe
Try the unique Butternut Squash Pizza at the Art House Cafe. Photo credit: Open Arts Studio/Art House Cafe

Also on the menu are cooking classes, private events and fresh baked loaves of bread, which will be sold at the Proctor and Broadway farmers markets this season.

Combining food and art are great ways to satiate your stomachs and souls. Give it a try. Engaging your olfactory senses just might give you a burst of creativity and artistic courage.

Open Arts Studio and Art House Café are adjacent to each other at 109 Tacoma Avenue North (Open Arts Studio) and 111 North Tacoma Avenue (Art House Café). For more information, give them a call at 253-272-9033 (Open Arts) or 253-212-2011 (Art House).

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